Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Biblical Profanity

Over the past few years, I've begun to come to the conclusion that the translators who bring the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English have skewed their results sometimes according to their own sensibilities rather than accurately portraying what the text says.

One such case is in Philipians 3:8, wherein Paul is claiming that in contrast to the value of knowing Christ Jesus, all other things are "rubbish".

This word "rubbish" (skuvbalon) seems to be a sanitized version of what the actual word means. Here's a summary from Daniel B. Wallace:
That skuvbalon took on the nuance of a vulgar expression with emotive connotations (thus, roughly equivalent to the English “crap, s**t”) is probable in light of the following considerations: (1) its paucity of usage in Greek literature (“Only with hesitation does literature seem to have adopted it from popular speech” says Lang in TDNT 7:445); (2) it is used frequently in emotionally charged contexts (as are its verbal cognates) in which the author wishes to invoke revulsion in his audience; (3) there is evidence that there were other, more common and more acceptable terms referring to the same thing (in particular, the agricultural term koprov and the medical term perivsswma); (4) diachronically, the shock value of the term seems to have worn off through the centuries; and (5) a natural transfer of the literal to a metaphorical usage, in which disgust, revulsion, or worthlessness are still in view, argues for this meaning as well. Nevertheless, that its shock value was not fully what “s**t” would be is suggested in the fact that in the Hellenistic period (c. 330 BCE-330 CE) the word was also used on occasion for “gleanings” or “table scraps.”

(From http://bible.org/article/brief-word-study-skuvbalon - Go read the entire article for a fuller treatment)
In other words, it appears that the word which God inspired is somewhere between "crap" and "sh*t".

Offends our sensibilities, doesn't it? But if it's true (and it seems to be), it is what it is.

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